Finding inspiration in his ‘dad’s cop book’
For Ryan Hess, helping as much as possible means wearing many hats
The first words a young Ryan Hess remembers reading came out of a 1973 version of Colorado Revised Statute.
Hess, whose father was a police officer in the town of Ouray in the 70s, had a copy of the Colorado Revised Statute in his truck at all times, thanks to a small gift from a local judge.
“All I remember is that I saw it as my Dad’s cop book and it was really, really cool to me,” Hess said from inside his office at the Moffat County Public Safety Center. “So I would grab it from time to time and would try to read it when I was a really little kid, so I’ve been reading Colorado law since I was probably 3 years old.”
That early foray into legal text sent Hess on a long path built around the legal system, which he continues today as a Sergeant in the Moffat County’s Sheriff’s Office Patrol Division.
Though he’s served in law enforcement since the age of 20, Hess is eyeing a new career path thanks to his love of law.
The longtime Craig resident recently graduated from law school online, and completed his bar exam in late February. The journey marks a long four-and-a-half years of law school on the side, and caps off a hectic last year or so cramming roughly 40 hours a week of studying for law school and the bar exam around his work as a Sergeant and a city councilor in the city of Craig.
As he awaits the results of his bar exam, Hess is eyeing a transition out of law enforcement in hopes of becoming an attorney in Moffat County, with the goal of sticking around long term, helping provide access to justice in rural Colorado.
“It wasn’t until later on in law school that I really wanted to become an attorney,” Hess said. “Access to justice in rural Colorado is a real problem. Probably 40% of the calls we respond to are people who are having legal problems who are not part of the justice system, and they’re just looking for someone to solve their problem for them.
“There’s really no place to send that person. There’s really like two attorneys in Craig,” Hess added.
Fortunately for Hess, he’s well-versed in handling a myriad of situations, relying heavily on his law and psychology degrees to help him in his profession as a law enforcement officer.
“You can solve a lot more problems with a law degree,” Hess said. “There’s not a whole lot in my profession that I can’t solve now. I have the tools to handle a number of situations.”
With access to justice in rural Colorado a major problem, Hess is eyeing a historic accomplishment within the state: becoming the first person in the state of Colorado who has an online law degree to obtain an attorney license in the state.
“We have a coal industry where people are leaving, if any of them want to be an attorney, I want them to be able to go online, get their degree and know that they can go set for the Colorado bar and know that’s something they can do if they want to do,” Hess said. “Colorado as a whole needs to realize that they need to allow people to do that. So I want to be the first person in the state of Colorado to have an online degree to get licensed, because that opens up the door to get more attorneys into rural Colorado.”
Prior to deciding the path of an attorney was his tract, Hess previously applied for the vacant county judge position following the surprise June 3, 2020 announcement that the Judge Sandra Gardner would be retiring Aug. 1.
Hess was named one of three finalists by Gov. Jared Polis before Brittany Schneider was appointed to the vacancy in mid-July by Polis.
“I liked the idea of being a judge; I like the appellate and I like judgeship work,” Hess said. “It’s really like being a referee, keeping things in check. Anybody who’s on council or attended council meetings knows I’m very procedural; I like procedure. One of the reasons I love the law — and I think it’s something that’s eluded us as a country — is that it’s set up to where people don’t have powers; laws do. So the law is structured language that everybody obeys by, so no one person is above or below that.”
Hess was someone able to wear many hats over the last few years in the community, all while balancing a busy home life with his wife, Toni, and two children.
“For me, my professional career has always been super busy,” Hess said. “When I was on the drug task force, I was always on call working tons of hours. At that same time, I was pursuing my masters degree. Back then, I would have 10-15 hours of homework each week. With law school, it’s about 40 hours of homework each week.”
Knowing he would be super busy, Hess — who mostly works nights with the Sheriff’s Office — would come home around 2 a.m. after a night shift and grab his textbooks and complete his assignments after work, rather than going to sleep right away.
On top of his law school assignments, Hess had to handle his duties on city council, supervisory workload with the Sheriff’s Office, and balance being a father and a husband.
“You’re constantly on the go,” Hess said. “I still get to get out with my wife, and I still get to do things with my kids.”
Despite the chaotic schedule, Hess found a way to handle it all without dropping one or two things off of his plate.
“I just found a structure that worked,” Hess said. “I structure my life so much, it’s just what I do.”
With law school and the bar exam completed, Hess finds himself with a ton of free time now for the first time since roughly 2016.
He says he won’t allow that to last for long.
“I run a mediation business on the side, so I started to do some contract paralegal work,” Hess said. “That will fill that void and will give me my legal fix.”
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